The F-Type signals the rebirth of Jaguar, and the convertible model has already rocked our world on several occasions. Here in Spain, I was to drive the coupe, a car which offered more performance than the convertible thanks to a stiffer aluminum structure and a new model, the F-Type R Coupe, with a 550-hp supercharged V8 engine.
From Barcelona, Jaguar flew us to Lleida, a small city about a hundred miles east of the Mediterranean, and unremarkable but for two things. First, it had an airport at which were parked a dozen or so 2015 Jaguar F-Type S Coupes that we'd soon be driving. Second, Lleida is conveniently next to some of the best driving roads I have ever seen.
F-Type S on the road
Out there the roads narrowed, the curves sharpened, and we put the car into its Dynamic Mode. Not only does Dynamic Mode prepare the car for spirited driving by enhancing throttle response, sharpening steering, and firming up the suspension, it also opens up the exhaust system to allow a full throated roar under full throttle, and a satisfying burble and pop when you let off the gas. Jaguar says the 380-horsepower 3.0-liter supercharged V6 can launch the F-Type Coupe from a standstill to 60 mph in a bit under 5 seconds. The 8-speed automatic shifts slickly, whether in its Dynamic self-shifting mode, or flicking the paddles to select your own gears.
The first thing we noticed about the coupe was its stiffness compared to the convertible, particularly noteworthy considering that Jaguar says the convertible is already as stiff as a BMW 5 Series sedan. Rather than chopping off the roof of the coupe, Jaguar designed the car as a convertible, then added the roof for the coupe. The result is an extremely stable platform on which to build a high-performance car, with very little chassis flex.
F-Type R at the track
The S was a nearly perfect driving companion on the twisting Spanish two-lanes, and while we could've driven these roads all day, we were anxious to make it to the racetrack, our midday stop and time with the F-Type R. Jaguar had also set up a low-speed wet handling course to demonstrate the F-Type's Torque Vectoring by Braking system, which uses the front brakes to guide the car through turns at the limits of traction.
We started on the short wet course, driving poorly to get the front end to slide on the wet pavement. The system worked as advertised, selectively braking the inside front wheel causing the nose of the car to turn tighter, rather than to slide forward. It was an interesting exercise, and despite the artificial feel under these tightly controlled circumstances designed to showcase the technology, we never noticed the system in action on the road, or on the track.
The tech demo was informative, but the 550-hp R Coupe felt out of place on the short track. The 3.3-mile long main circuit was a different story. As the laps accumulated, the Coupe's at-the-limit quirks showed themselves. Power was no problem, and the transmission's Dynamic Mode was as adept at picking the right gear, though the paddle shifters responded even quicker. The brakes were excellent and worth every penny. Yet the Jaguar didn't have quite the precision one would find in, say, a Porsche. The rear end was too eager to slide, the steering not quite precise enough. But these are minor quibbles. If the true test of a sports car is how it performs on a track, this Jaguar graduates magna cum laude, just a notch below the summa you'd get in a Porsche.
On the road again
The next day, we set out in a Sapphire Blue Jaguar F-Type R Coupe on public roads that combined two-lanes snaking through the hills, narrow single-lanes that crawled through ancient Spanish towns, and high-speed straights and highways that led us back to Lleida. Our car lacked the carbon-ceramic matrix brakes from yesterday's track cars, but was otherwise the same.
It was wonderful. While the Jaguar wasn't in its very best element on the racetrack -- where it was still pretty good -- it absolutely owned these Spanish roads. The exhaust popped and echoed off the hillsides, the road twisted and turned under us, and the Jaguar devoured it all. The V8 sounded as it made short work of the slower moving cars we encountered. Driving this car briskly is intoxicating, yet even in the slow sections the F-Type managed to be fun, drawing envious stares from passersby.
F-Type Coupe: a real sports car
There are two takeaways from my time with the Jaguar F-Type Coupe. First, this is a real sports car. It's not a sporty coupe, it's not a grand tourer. It's a sports car, and Jaguar was willing to throw certain accommodations aside in the interest of making the car better to drive. It's stiffly sprung, it's sometimes a little loud, and it's tight inside, with merely adequate cargo space. But in exchange you get a car that's a blast and a half to drive, and one of the most fun cars you can buy today.
Second, this is just the beginning. More F-Type variants are in the pipeline, including rumored all-wheel drive and hybrid versions. Beyond that, expect to see even more highly focused F-Type models in the future. After all, there's still room for a GT model, for example, so if you're hoping that the F-Type will someday be the ultimate track car, don't lose hope. The F-Type has raised our expectations for the company's future products. Jaguar has surprised and delighted us with its new sports car. The challenge now is to just keep at it.
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